Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

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The Pentagon and Hexagon chairs are Fantastic’s signature design. (Photos supplied)
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A cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, this dessert is delicious.
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Breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce.
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A large painting of the legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz by Wijdan Al Jahwari takes center stage in the café.
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The 'Tolerance Chair' is inspired by the work of renowned artist Jaume Plensa.
Updated 13 January 2018
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Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

DAMMAM: The finer things in life — art and epicurean dining — come together in Fantastic, an art gallery-café combo in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar.
Fantastic is a new concept from young, enterprising Saudis, Ahmed Al-Ghunaim, Mohammed Al-Rasheed and artist Rawan Al-Dulaijan.
As you walk into the gallery, you are welcomed by asymmetrical light fixtures playing off artwork displayed on wall-to-ceiling shelves.
Immediately, a silhouette of the Saudi king in his majestic thawb, bisht and ghutra, fashioned out of Arabic letters, catches the eye.
“Our national dress is a source of pride and what better way to showcase our pride than through our art,” Al-Ghunaim explained.
He pointed out the hexagon and pentagon chairs — Fantastic’s signature design. Using elements including stainless steel, calligraphy, graphics, wood, natural leather and high-end fabric, Fantastic’s furniture is designed to make us rethink the way we look at ordinary things.
Upstairs, you can find some of the gallery’s bigger pieces, including a console table constructed from copper, glass and wood.
Al-Ghunaim pointed out a chair inspired by the Dubai Metro — a digital image of the UAE city’s transport system makes up the back of the chair, which has black arches for armrests.
The “Tolerance Chair,” meanwhile — inspired by the work of renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa — incorporates words from various languages to emphasize that diversity inspires us to live together in harmony. “Languages can be a common medium that bridge cultures and differences,” Al-Ghunaim said.
The gallery is currently displaying paintings by young artist Wijdan Al-Jahwary, who uses saffron and coffee powders to paint portraits. His large, distinctive portrait of the legendary Lebanese singer Fayrouz takes center stage at the café and has visitors posing for a coveted selfie.
The café retains Fantastic’s aesthetic — geometric planters and light fixtures with golden accents, calligraphy-imprinted chairs and lightweight marble and wood cutlery. Each piece of furniture or décor is available for purchase and can be customized to individual preferences — for example, a planter can be converted to a table if a customer desires, Al-Ghunaim explained.
Epicurean dining
Fantastic’s menu is innovative and indulgent. For starters, we tried the Fushi salad — a platter of toasted bread and feta cheese on a bed of lolla rossa lettuce, cherry tomatoes, beetroot, pine nuts and pistachios.
All of the ingredients for the salads are sourced locally, Al-Ghunaim said.
A favorite with regulars is the baked chicken kunaffa — marinated chicken wrapped in kunaffa dough and served with a sticky plum sauce.
For our main courses, the fresh shrimp and penne pasta tossed in a creamy saffron sauce hit the right spot.
Mom’s Chicken Parmigiana — breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce — and the Taouk pizza — pizza with a special mix of BBQ and tahini sauce rolled up and served taouk style — are innovative takes on home-made dishes.
“We aspire to provide food that cannot be found elsewhere.” Al-Ghunaim said.
For dessert, we tried the Lotus Volcano. An explosion of textures and flavors, it is a cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, soaked in Lotus biscoff spread and salted caramel sauce.
Another best-seller is classic waffles served with Swiss chocolate. What makes these special is the distinctive crunch that you can hear right from the first bite.
We ended the meal with a rose latte, its milky smoothness perfectly complemented the fragrant and nutty flavor of Turkish rose buds.
Nurturing a community of artists
The inspiration for Fantastic came from Saudi Design Week in 2015. Al-Ghunaim attended, but saw that Saudi talent was seriously under-represented.
“I established Fantastic with the concept of promoting young artists; to give them more visibility, without them having to incur the high expenses associated with displaying work in art galleries or art shows,” he explained.
“On display is artwork that people don’t often get to see. These are not mainstream, popular or established artists. On the contrary, they are young, talented, visionary artists who need exposure in their early days.”
Al-Ghunaim said he is inspired by the talent and collaborative art community in Kuwait and Dubai and hopes his gallery-café can provide the impetus to build something similar in Al-Khobar.
“Fantastic wants to provide a platform for artists in and around Saudi Arabia, and serve as a collaborative and encouraging space for young talent,” he said.


WHO: Alcohol abuse kills 3 million a year, most of them men

The logo of the World Health Organization (WHO) is pictured on the facade of the WHO headquarters on October 24, 2017 in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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WHO: Alcohol abuse kills 3 million a year, most of them men

  • Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents and interpersonal violence
  • An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, with average daily consumption of people at 33 grams of pure alcohol a day

GENEVA: More than 3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol, meaning one in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
More than three quarters of these deaths were among men, the UN health agency said. Despite evidence of the health risks it carries, global consumption of alcohol is predicted to rise in the next 10 years.
“It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
In its “Global status report on alcohol and health 2018,” the WHO said that globally, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women are problem drinkers or alcohol abusers. The highest prevalence is in Europe and the Americas, and alcohol-use disorders are more common in wealthier countries.
Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, with average daily consumption of people at 33 grams of pure alcohol a day. This is roughly equivalent to two 150 ml glasses of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two 40 ml shots of spirits.
Europe has the highest per person alcohol consumption in the world, even though it has dropped by around 10 percent since 2010. Current trends point to a global rise in per capita consumption in the next 10 years, the report said, particularly in Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and the Americas.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Vladimir Poznyak, of the WHO’s substance abuse unit. He said proven, cost-effective steps included raising alcohol taxes, restricting advertising and limiting easy access to alcohol.
Worldwide, 45 percent of total alcohol consumed is in the form of spirits. Beer is the second most popular, accounting for 34 percent of consumption, followed by wine at 12 percent.
The report found that almost all countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other pricing strategies such as banning below-cost sales or bulk buy discounts.